Mexico: Authorities must not criminalize land defenders in Cuetzalan

Mexico’s Federal Attorney General’s office (PGR) must not charge the seven human rights defenders who are being investigated for the offence of “obstructing the execution of a public work” in the town of Cuetzalan unless there is strong evidence against them, Amnesty International said today.
“It is crucial that the PGR ensure that the investigation is not based on unfounded or unreliable evidence as reprisal for their work to defend human rights and that it guarantees their right to a fair trial in accordance with international standards,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
“It is essential that the Mexican authorities do not misuse the criminal justice system to harass and silence human rights defenders and use this as a way to obstruct their legitimate work to defend the land, territory and environment.”
The PGR opened a criminal investigation into eight members of the Tosepan Cooperative Union (TOSEPAN), the Cuetzalan Committee for Comprehensive Land-use Management (COTIC) and the Independent Rural and Urban Popular Movement for Workers and Farmers (MIOCUP), based on a complaint filed by the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE).
The complaint is based on the fact that the Maseual, Tutunaku and Mestizo Peoples’ Assembly set up a peaceful protest camp between November 2016 and October 2017 on private land next to the plot where the CFE planned to build an electrical substation and high-voltage power line in Cuetzalan, in the state of Puebla.
The Maseual Peoples considered that the construction was being carried out without their consent and without free, prior and informed consultation with the Indigenous Peoples affected. The complaint filed by the CFE has led to a criminal investigation for the offence of obstructing the execution of a public work.
The environmental rights defender Manuel Gaspar Rodríguez, one of the eight accused, was killed in Cuetzalan on 14 May in a context where human rights defenders face smear campaigns and stigmatization. The Mexican authorities are investigating his death.
“These facts prove that, yet again, when human rights defenders in Mexico speak out against projects that will directly affect their rights and their territory, they face smear campaigns accusing them of being opposed to development. It is unacceptable that, rather than protect them, the authorities criminalize them in an attempt to discourage them from exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful protest,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.
Amnesty International calls on the CFE to reconsider the use of the criminal justice system in this case and seek resolution by alternative means. It is crucial that the CFE, and all companies, implement appropriate due diligence processes in order to guarantee respect for human rights, including the right to free, prior and informed consultation of the people and communities affected by their activities or those of their subsidiaries, subcontractors or suppliers.
The organization urges the Mexican authorities to immediately adopt effective and coordinated protection measures which guarantee the safety and physical integrity of the members of TOSEPAN, COTIC and MIOCUP, in accordance with their own wishes, so that they are able to continue to carry out their work to defend human rights without fear of reprisal.
Additional information
Several Indigenous and campesino communities have reported to Amnesty International that their human rights have been violated in relation to the planning and implementation of projects for the exploration and exploitation of natural resources in their land, particularly the lack of free, prior and informed consultation and consent. As a result, the members of the communities demand their right to participate in decision making on projects that affect their territory and way of life.
The Mexican state is obliged under international human rights law to carry out consultation and obtain the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples prior to the granting of permits for the exploration and exploitation of natural resources and territories.
Amnesty International has launched a platform to document these and other attacks against those who defend human rights related to the land, territory and environment in Mexico and Latin America: